Many recipes that call for either butter or cream cheese will require these dairy products to be softened before using them. When taken directly out of the refrigerator, the food product is naturally cold. If you're cooking a recipe that requires softened cream cheese, it's because when the cream cheese is beaten when it is still cold, it will result in a lumpy texture and not a smooth consistency. The rules apply to butter too. If you need to beat (or cream) the butter, it won't work with a cold stick of butter.
How to Soften Cream Cheese
If you have time to spare, leave the cream cheese on the counter for 15 minutes. This is all it takes for it to become much softer. If you don't have that time to spare, here's how to soften it quickly:
- Take an 8-ounce package of cream cheese. Take it out of its foil wrapping and set it on a microwave-safe plate or bowl.
- Microwave on HIGH power for about 15 to 20 seconds.
- Test the middle of the cream cheese with your finger. It should feel softer (but not hot). If needed, repeat in 10-second increments. Do not heat the cream cheese.
How to Bring Butter to Room Temperature Quickly
The same timing goes for butter as for cream cheese. If you have 15 minutes, leave the stick of butter on the counter. This is all it needs to soften. If you don't have that time to spare, try this method:
- Slice the stick of butter thinly or grate it.
- It will come to room temperature (65° F to 70° F for baking) quickly in the smaller pieces.
Another option to soften butter will result in a thin, soft sheet of butter.
- Place the stick of butter in a small zip-top bag
- Give the bag a few strong whacks with a rolling pin. Flatten the butter and then leave it on the counter (in the bag) for a minute or two. This method will soften the butter while still keeping it cool.
Be very cautious if you try to microwave the butter in order to soften it. Unlike cream cheese, the butter will melt very quickly when it is heated in the microwave. Once it melts, the consistency will have been totally changed and it may no longer work for your recipe or cooking needs.
The Right Consistency
Use your finger to test the softness of butter. Softened butter should still feel cool to the touch. Press a finger into the butter with just a slight bit of pressure. Your finger should leave an indentation, but not sink in. If your finger sinks into the butter, it is too soft.